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Aug 14, 2013 — Pt – 3 Now THIS Is Podracing!
In its uncut form on DVD, Episode I features a 22-minute long podracing segment. [I should assume that you need no explanation of what podracing is since you’ve likely, regrettably seen Episode I already.] This race features only one major character (Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker), one minor character (the all-digital dastardly dug Sebulba), and a host of CGI cartoons that resemble outcasts from a Mucinex commercial. The plot has been pushed against a wall — if Anakin doesn’t win the race, the movie stops and the exiled Queen Amidala must take up residence on a backwater desert planet while her people are enslaved by Asian stereotyped aliens. Obviously, there is no real danger that Anakin will be harmed or lose the race, and we don’t give two Republic credits about any of the other characters. So why are we watching 22 minutes of a race that – for all intents and purposes – doesn’t matter? It is merely a tech demonstration for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic animation department – a 22 minute long tech demonstration dropped in the middle of a film that’s already testing our patience.
Consider a similar scene from an earlier chapter in the Star Wars saga, 1983’s Return of the Jedi. On the forest moon of Endor, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia chase on speeder bikes after Imperial scouts who – if unstopped – will report the rebels’ presence to Vader and possibly stop the entire mission. We have two major characters involved in a short, thrilling chase, with the possibility of complications that could arise (which they do, when Leia is separated from the group and meets the Ewoks [not that they are any prize].)
Boring, overlong, and unnecessary, the podracing scene is a microcosm of the entire problem with Episode I. It is also a sign of what would come later, a characteristic I call “The Roller Coaster Scene.” This is not exactly the same as when Clark Griswald and family ride the roller coaster at Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation. In fact, these Roller Coaster Scenes need not even involve a roller coaster.
Allow me to explain the traits of a Roller Coaster Scene. It is a fast, supposed to be thrilling scene, usually from a first person perspective with turns, climbs, and drops, with the intention of putting the viewer into a feeling of being on a roller coaster. Mostly these involve major characters, and the result of the scene is that the major characters merely travel from Location A to Location B. They may fall down a tube or ride on a runaway train, but the end result is always the same.
Robert Zemeckis did this on The Polar Express and again in Disney’s A Christmas Carol. In A Christmas Carol, we see a miniaturized Ebenezer Scrooge slip and slide through a digital Victorian London streetscape. Would we expect to see Scrooge impaled by an icicle? No, of course not – it is a children’s movie after all. But is he going to learn anything about the wonders of Christmas or how to treat his fellow man? No, this scene serves absolutely no purpose other than to dazzle the audience. (But since they’re children, I guess this is okay, right?)
I don’t mean to bash on Zemeckis continuously (even though I find his digi-trilogy of The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol revolting), and he is certainly not alone in this phenomenon.